- - Monday, May 18, 2015

With investments, wine or travel, I like finding interesting deals, things that no one else wants. The reason being, they’re usually off the radar and inexpensive. Therefore, they can add great value. Ukraine, right now, is one of these undiscovered treasures. No really, I’m serious. So, if you’re a wanderlust like me and always looking for a cool spot to go and check the culture, the history, and the people, then consider spending a few days in West Ukraine this summer. Just hear me out OK?

First of all, Kiev is a wonderful city. It has deep historical roots and you could spend the week just hitting all of the historical and cultural spots. The fighting right now is way in the East so there is no real danger of bodily harm. Of course, there could always be a terrorist incident but that can happen in any great city. One could make the argument the chances are higher in New York right now than in Kiev. The metro system is extensive and efficient. It’s not over-the-top beautiful like the Moscow Metro, but it works, is clean, and safe.

As of today, you can find round-trip airfare to and from New York for less than $1,000. But here’s the kicker: Because the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, has been so devalued, you can live like a king in Kiev for next to nothing! The hryvnia is fluctuating anywhere from the low to high 20s to the U.S. dollar. A year ago, it was 8 hryvnia to $1! So things are really cheap. For instance, you can stay at Hotel Ukraine, in the center of Maydan, for less than $25 a night. That’s for a nice single room and an unbelievably extensive free breakfast buffet. Try the buckwheat! You’ll like it! (just add soy sauce).

And it’s the same for the restuarants. You can have a very fine meal for less than $20. The only thing I would caution you on is that these people need money and will be pressuring you to buy, buy, buy. Just hold your ground, eat what you want, and enjoy.

Independence Square has been cleaned up since the Maydan revolution that toppled the country’s president in 2014. There are still a few scars and memorials but it’s really nothing to worry about. There are plenty of restaurants and bars in the area and the nightlife is over the top! That is, only if you like Miss Universe contestant lookalikes everywhere you turn.

I would recommend taking the metro and exploring the ancient Orthodox monasteries dotting the city, dating back to Vladimir the Great. St. Sophia Cathedral is on the U.N. World Heritage List, which supports conservation. You can take a guided tour down through the Kiev Pechersk Lavra catacombs and see the bodies of the small monks who barricaded themselves underground to worship until death. When the monk stopped taking food, the priests would brick up the entrance and come back in two years to see if the body had decayed. If not, they would bury them as a saint for all to see. If the body had decayed, they assumed the monk was not pure and would scatter the bones. It’s quite fascinating and spooky.

The parks and green spaces lining the Dnipro River are quite pleasurable and you could spend hours walking and people watching. The arts community is thriving, if you know where to go, and, again, you can lose yourself in the culture and community.

What I especially enjoy is just talking to the people. They’ve been through a lot and all have a story to tell. I’ve spent hours over a nice bottle of wine with someone I just met, listening to their stories of what happened on the day the government decided to start shooting. I’ve met interesting travelers from London and other European locals, all there to enjoy the Eastern European, post-Soviet scene.

I know this is not for everyone. However, if you enjoy the nonconventional, this trip is a home run. There are also plenty of concierge services ready to arrange everything for you. Just google it. They will be glad to help out and make sure your time is enjoyable and safe. Happy traveling!

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